The Seattle School Board filled a vacant board position and approved an agreement Wednesday to bring pre-K through fifth-grade students back into school buildings in early April.
The School Board voted unanimously to appoint Erin Dury, a nonprofit organizer and business consultant, to represent Ballard, Magnolia and Queen Anne schools as the newest addition to the board.
Dury was appointed and sworn into office immediately at the beginning of the Wednesday meeting. Her term — in a seat that oversees the “District IV” region — will run through fall 2021, when the next regularly scheduled election for the seat will take place.
The tentative agreement with the teachers union to return to school is one of the final steps required before Seattle Public Schools can bring back students for learning in school buildings. On Friday, the union representing the district’s school employees, the Seattle Education Association (SEA), will vote on whether to ratify the contract. If the union approves, the deal becomes official.
Under the agreement, elementary school students and secondary students with disabilities would return to buildings on April 5 — Gov. Jay Inslee’s deadline for districts to offer in-person instruction for young students. Some elementary students receiving special education services would return on March 29. Students would attend schools four days per week on half-day schedules for just under three hours, with some attending in the morning and others in the afternoon.
The agreement also includes expanded leave and accommodations for educators and several layers of safety protocols. Under the agreement, the district must maintain at least 30 days’ worth of PPE for staff and students. Staff members who haven’t been fully vaccinated can request to work remotely until they’ve been able to do so. The district cannot compel union members to get vaccinated. Educators who will lose access to child care, or whose child care provider isn’t offering in-person services during the pandemic, can request remote work as an accommodation.
The district announced last week that it would not be able to guarantee yellow bus transportation for all families who request it due to a school-bus driver shortage with its primary contractor, First Student. On Wednesday, the School Board approved a measure to change elementary school start times in an effort to allow bus drivers to run more than one route in the morning and afternoon.
The district and union are still negotiating a return for middle and high school students.
Dury one of three finalists
Dury was one of three finalists for the open board seat, along with Eric Souza, marketing specialist and former journalist, and Laura Marie Rivera, former teacher and Broadway performer.
“I am honored and grateful to serve District IV and the Seattle Public Schools,” Dury said after the vote Wednesday. “I recognize the privilege and position of power this appointment has and know that true service will be shown through action and centering community voice, particularly those who historically and currently do not have the access to have their voice heard. I know there’s a lot of work to do and reconstruction to happen. … I am ready to do the work and I am here in service.”
The interim seat was left vacant in January, when former School Board member Eden Mack resigned, citing frustrations with “chronic underfunding” and safety issues. In her resignation announcement, Mack called for a state intervention and full audit of the School Board’s governance, management and financial structure — and urged district leaders to “look seriously again” at making the board positions full-time, paid jobs with required trainings and more employees.
Dury, who has a fourth-grade student at Salmon Bay K-8 School in Ballard, has said that as a School Board member, she’ll prioritize equity, student voices and collaboration — particularly as students return to in-person learning. She currently serves as the director of Friends of Salmon Bay, the parent/teacher organization at the school, and the District 4 director of the Seattle Council PTSA — positions where she’s said she’s focused on budgetary and financial plans.
Before the vote, other board members said they appreciated Dury’s commitment to systemic transformation, racial equity, community involvement, change management and the board’s current work.
Dury works at Ampersand Community, a nonprofit that consults with community organizations to embed antiracist practices into their operational structures and management. She’s also served as the executive director of Oregon CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Network, where she helped develop policies and establish private, government and nonprofit partners for the organization.
“I was particularly impressed with her areas of expertise and believe, in particular, with her familiarity with the students who are in foster care through her CASA experience, that she’s got a great deal of understanding about students that exist at the margins of our systems,” School Board President Chandra Hampson said during the meeting.
The School Board currently has one other interim member, Brandon Hersey, who was sworn in during the fall of 2019 after his predecessor, Betty Patu, left in the middle of her term. The term for his seat, which represents South Seattle, is also set to expire this fall. All other board members except for Leslie Harris are serving their first terms.
Aneesa Roidad, a member of the NAACP Youth Council and one of the students who coordinated one of two candidate forums last week, said she hopes the new director will prioritize a commitment to racial justice and mental health in schools, as well as centering community and family voices in “everything (the board) does.”
During the forum, the youth council grilled the candidates on their plans to achieve educational justice within schools, retain educators of color, emphasize student advocacy and family engagement and address the over-policing and disproportionate discipline of Black and brown students in the district, among other questions.
“I’m happy with the decision,” said Roidad, who graduated from District IV’s Ballard High School in 2020. “I thought Erin was a very strong candidate and will be a strong advocate for youth and communities of color. … As someone who went to Ballard, I know how important that is for our whole district.”
After the vote, Roidad, who’s taking a gap year before attending Harvard University this fall, said she hopes Dury will focus on a safe return to school buildings, referring not only to in-person learning during the pandemic but also to marginalized students and students of color and educators who might not have felt safe in Seattle schools in the past.
The District 4 director appointment comes after three Seattle residents this week filed charges to recall the entire School Board, accusing members of failing to oversee a timely transition to in-person learning during the pandemic, KIRO-TV reported.